Can Sanctions Stop The Bomb?

Paper given at the conference entitled Economic Sanctions and International Relations

Fourth Freedom Forum and
The Joan B. Crock Institute for
International Peace Studies
Notre Dame University

My topic today is faraway places–those countries across the world that don’t yet have the bomb but may soon get it–and what can be done to stop them. I will try to discuss what these countries are up to in the context of “sanctions”–the subject of this conference. I will allow myself to define sanctions as broadly as possible. The concept will include anything unpleasant that one country might do to get another country to change its behavior.

In general, countries build the bomb because they perceive its benefits to be greater than its costs. Each country makes this appraisal from its own vantage point. To convince a country not to make the bomb, it must be persuaded that the costs are too high. The United States has been trying for many years to convince a number of developing countries of that proposition. The fact that the United States itself has incurred staggering costs to have thousands of bombs has not made the task easier.

We have asked Ukraine, for example, to move from nuclear weapon to non-nuclear weapon status and to give up voluntarily what other countries have struggled and paid lots of money to acquire. What Ukraine decides will set an important precedent for the rest of the world. We must convince Ukraine’s leaders that any benefit from having nuclear weapons will be outweighed by the cost of being deprived of Western aid and trade, which must be withheld unless Ukraine makes the “right” decision.

The Russians also want our help. We haven’t asked them to give up nuclear weapons, but we can ask them not to help other countries develop long-range missiles. The Russians are now selling India a powerful space rocket that would help India make an ICBM. In addition, India would get the rocket production technology, which would allow India to mass-produce the rocket and supply it to other countries. India freely converts its space rockets to ballistic missiles.

These sales would violate the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international accord that limits the sale of missile technology. Although the Russians have not joined the regime, they have promised to abide by its provisions. If the sales go through, the regime would be severely wounded. Should the West withhold aid to Moscow until Moscow renounces this deal? Should the West refuse to save Yeltsin, and set back reform in Russia because of a smelly missile deal? We see that there are definite limits on the use of sanctions to stop proliferation.

There are, however, successes. Argentina and Brazil have promised recently to stop short of nuclear weapon status, after years of effort devoted to making both nuclear weapon material and long-range missiles. And even South Africa has promised to become a non-nuclear weapon state, although that country actually manufactured warheads. These three countries have apparently decided that the cost of having the bomb is simply too high. They seem to have decided that whatever benefit they might derive from nuclear weapons was smaller than the cost of being deprived of high technology–which the advanced world was prepared to withhold unless they renounced the bomb. These countries want to be viewed as reliable trading partners by the developed world, and they have promised to give up the bomb to gain that status.

North Korea is now facing the same choice as Argentina, Brazil and South Africa. The developed world is threatening to isolate North Korea–diplomatically and economically– unless it gives up its bomb program. The isolation will push North Korea ever farther behind South Korea in real political and economic power, and hence influence. North Korea must decide whether the bomb is worth such a price. One of the main factors in the decision, of course, is China. The rest of the world needs China to make sanctions against North Korea work. It remains to be seen whether China will cooperate. If it doesn’t, it may face sanctions itself. China’s U.S. trading status as a most favored nation is coming up in Congress again, and may be voted down again without a veto by George Bush to save it.

Next we come to the subcontinent, where India and Pakistan can each deploy nuclear weapons and are embroiled in a longstanding border dispute. Neither country has a clear military doctrine governing the use of nuclear weapons, so if fighting breaks out over Kashmir, both countries would be stepping into the unknown. No one on either side knows what would happen.

Our best policy on the subcontinent is to ask India and Pakistan to choose between bombs and breakfast. Everybody knows that you can’t eat bombs for breakfast, but if somebody else is willing to buy your breakfast and let you keep making bombs, you never need to choose between the two.

The Indian and Pakistani bombs were built without jeopardizing anyone’s breakfast. U.S. aid to Pakistan continued throughout the 1980s, even though it was clear that Pakistan was bent on making the bomb. Strangely enough, U.S. aid flowed into Pakistan until Pakistan was actually able to assemble a nuclear device, at which point we cut them off. The timing was strongly affected by the war in Afghanistan, but one has to wonder at the political vision behind such a policy.

India also enjoyed uninterrupted U.S. aid while it was developing its nuclear program. In fact, the bomb that India tested in 1974 was made with plutonium produced with U.S. heavy water, supplied to an Indian research reactor through Canada. Heavy water is used in reactors to make plutonium–a nuclear weapon material–from natural uranium. During the mid-1980s, India finally achieved the ability to make a nuclear arsenal by smuggling large quantities of heavy water from China, Norway and the Soviet Union. The United States detected the shipments and discovered that they were being made by a German broker. American diplomats complained about the broker to the German government, but Germany ignored the complaints, just as it ignored other U.S. complaints about the poison gas plants that German firms were supplying to Iraq and Libya at the same time. The State Department apparently decided not to embarrass Germany publicly, so all the deals went through. Foggy Bottom missed a great opportunity to apply sanctions during the 1980s–a series of phone calls to the media would have stopped an enormous amount of proliferation.

There has been a bill in Congress to cut off multilateral aid to bomb and missile makers. It would cut into the free breakfast. India, for example, could not make bombs with one hand and still take money from the World Bank with the other. According to its 1991 Annual Report, the World Bank loaned India more than two billion dollars in 1991 and has loaned India almost $40 billion altogether. For Pakistan the figures are $677 million in 1991 and $8 billion altogether; for Argentina, $680 million in 1991 and $5.8 billion altogether; for Brazil $955 million in 1991 and $18.9 billion altogether. All of these countries also get help from the International Monetary Fund. The Fund loaned India over two billion in 1991 and loaned Pakistan $130 million.

It is also interesting to look at other types of aid. India got over four billion dollars’ worth of Export-Import Bank financing from the United States from 1970 to 1989, the period during which India was actively developing nuclear weapons. India also got another $20 billion in bilateral aid from Western countries other than the United States from 1980 to 1988.

When all these numbers are added up, one can see that the West was sending many billions of dollars in foreign exchange into India at the very same time that India was sending out billions to import its nuclear and missile infrastructure. In effect, the West was buying not only breakfast, but lunch and dinner for India’s nuclear and missile makers. India never had to decide between bombs and breakfast because everything was free.

It is one thing for India to build nuclear weapons, nuclear missiles, and even nuclear submarines, which it is now doing, but it is quite another to have U.S. taxpayers finance it.

One final note on India. According to the standard references, India is now exporting only $17 billion in goods while importing $25 billion, thus running a trade deficit of $8 billion, which must be added to the interest payments on its $70 billion foreign debt. Thus, India is in a financial vise. Yet India is still spending over nine billion per year on defense, and is ready to pay the Russians $200 million to import the rocket technology. Where will India get the money? From foreign aid.

Congress could put a stop to at least some of this. India could be cut off from multilateral aid unless it gives up its dangerous nuclear and missile programs. It is eminently fair to force India to make such a choice. If a country has enough money to build nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, it does not need foreign aid.

In Iraq we now have something close to the maximum imaginable sanctions. Nothing is supposed to go in except food and medicine, and virtually nothing is supposed to come out. If the Iraqis act up under the pressure, F-16s and Tomahawk missiles are standing by.

Iraq is now forbidden even to possess a lot of equipment and material useful for civilian purposes, because it can also make weapons of mass destruction. This obligation is enforced by inspectors who can fly into the country to look anytime, anywhere, for anything. This unprecedented state of affairs–surely the dream of every sanctions advocate–will go on indefinitely unless Iraq complies with a list of U.N. resolutions.

This has become the great sanctions showcase. If they don’t work in Iraq, where will they work? And if they do work in Iraq, will they work in countries that haven’t lost a war recently?

In spite of everything, Saddam Hussein has not changed his goal. He is still trying to wriggle out of the embargo and keep as many of his mass-destruction programs as he can. We still don’t know whether he will succeed. The U.N. does not understand his entire nuclear program, and does not seem to have found all of his nuclear equipment. It is certain that his supplier network, which is perhaps his most dangerous asset, has not been exposed. To do the inspection job right in Iraq, the International Atomic Energy Agency needs to be more aggressive. There must be more inspectors, they must move into Iraq, and they must engage the Iraqis continuously until a complete picture of the Iraqi bomb program can be drawn. To help this effort succeed, countries like Argentina, Brazil and Egypt, which helped Iraq make nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, should tell the inspectors what they know. So far, they aren’t talking.

Israel’s nuclear arsenal remains a problem. It is not easy to convince the Islamic countries that they don’t need nuclear weapons, chemical weapons or long-range missiles when Israel has all three, with America’s apparent blessing. Israel has passed along missile guidance technology to China and missile and nuclear technology to South Africa, making Israel an additional source of proliferation. Israel has also diverted U.S. missile technology–supplied to help Israel defend itself against missiles–to its own offensive long-range missile program. The United States, in protest, has held up military aid to Israel, but has never been willing to cut the enormous foreign aid handout that Israel gets every year. It is unrealistic to suppose that Israel will ever suffer real sanctions at the hands of the United States, despite its bad proliferation record.

I will end with Iran, which our Secretary of State last Wednesday called an “outlaw state” determined to make the bomb. Iran has oil money and doesn’t much care what America thinks. Our best bet for slowing Iran down is to cut off its strategic imports. The Bush administration tried to convince other developed countries to withhold all high-tech exports that could be used to make A-bombs or missiles, but the success of the mission is still uncertain.

After looking at all these countries, the conclusion has to be that sanctions must be tailored to the particular case, and are more promising in some cases than in others. When countries need trade and economic help, withholding such benefits can provide leverage. China, Ukraine, India, Pakistan and North Korea come to mind. Israel and Russia could also fall into this category, but because of other political considerations, the leverage probably won’t be exercised. Iraq is in a category by itself; it is not poor, but it lost a war. Iran and Libya are the tough cases. They have money, want the bomb, and are willing to defy world opinion to get it. If they get close to success, there will probably be pressure for military action.